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Racial Inequality in Jazz

Although Vera Louise’s silence of Golden Gray’s biracial identity can be interpreted as an action done out of her love towards him, her decision to remain quiet over his black heritage served as a window to the discrimination black people faced during the twentieth century. By staying silent Vera Louise did not only protect her son from slavery, but she also prevented the possibility of her son from being viewed inferior and being stripped from the rights of the superior race. Moreover, the fact that she remained silent for eighteen years (143) can be interpreted in two ways: it can be seen as her attempt to keep her son hanging on to the illusion that he’s a full-blood Caucasian or it can be viewed as her attempt to convince herself that her son is not biracial, but is rather the superior race. Regardless of the interpretations stated previously, her desire to make Golden Gray’s white half dominate his black half evoked a notion that the Caucasian race was more respected. However, her silence was not the only thing that prevented him from being demoted from his status as a free, Caucasian man; his physical attributes that strongly mimicked European characteristics masked the other half of his race that was considered inferior during his time. By having “a head swollen of fat champagne-colored curls” (148 – 149) and “creamy skin” (168) Golden Gray’s race as a white person overshadowed his black race, thus preventing Vera Louise from abandoning him at the Catholic Foundling Hospital (148). Subsequently, Vera Louise’s action of keeping Golden Gray only because he exhibited Caucasian features further implied the racial inequality during that time; if Golden Gray portrayed black characteristics, his mother would have abandoned him in the hospital for keeping him would put her (and her son) to shame in the eyes of the society she lived in. However, her decision to keep Golden Gray solely because he manifested white features, can be inferred as Morrison’s attempt to provide a window to the racial injustice evident during that time; it revealed the twentieth century belief within her society that Caucasian features were favored greater than the physical characteristics of other ethnicities. Not abandoning her son if he were to display attributes of the subordinate race would make known that she had a relationship with someone of black ethnicity; consequently, that would reduce the respect Vera Louise attained from her position in the society. If she were to keep her son had he been born appearing more black than white, then her action would collide with her society’s distaste of interracial relationships.

Evidence of this social norm was supported by the response Vera Louise’s parents had towards their daughter after their discovery of her affair with Hunter (141). Had her lover been of white descent, the parents would have married her off to him right away regardless of how furious they were of the situation; instead, they exiled her from their home as Hunter was of black descent and interracial marriage was not a commonly accepted idea during that period. By banishing her from their home, it can be inferred that Vera Louise’s action unsettled them for it disrupted the twentieth century social norms they abided by. This unsettledness the parents may have experienced can be interpreted as their unfamiliarity to this new idea of interracial relationships Vera Louise unwillingly introduced to them. Since the idea appeared extremely controversial to them, it challenged the values that had been fixed so firmly in their minds by their society; their daughter’s conduct conflicted with their own ideals for her—for her to remain chaste until a specific time and that she was expected to have a same race relationship—as her incompliance to the social norms blurred the racial inequality that was strongly prominent in her era.

Questioning Validity in Austerlitz Through Grammatical Pecularities

When I was reading Sebald’s Austerlitz I was surprised to have noticed an absence of quotation marks. Because of this lack of quotation marks, I felt that the story of Austerlitz the narrator was giving to us lacked validity.

Through evocative language in the narrative structure, Austerlitz’s recollection of his past was brought to a rich imagery, subsequently immersing the reader into a search for a closer connection to him; however, the exemption of quotation marks and the reiteration of his past behind the voice of the narrator throughout the story halted the recovery of Austerlitz’s past being told in his own voice. Despite providing a vast amount of detailed information about himself to the narrator, the absence of quotation marks evident throughout the novel questioned the validity of Austerlitz’s memories being said through his own words; consequently, this uncertainty distanced the reader from fully knowing the protagonist. While the rich imagery of Austerlitz’s memories provided through his storytelling drew us closer to seeing him at a personal level, the lack of quotation marks prevented us from truly knowing him; without the presence of quotation marks surrounding the sentences supposedly spoken by him, the sentences seemed more as if they were the narrator’s interpretations of the protagonist’s depiction of his past. Hence, Austerlitz’s description of his past seemed rather incomplete for the way how Sebald structured the sentences invoked a sense of lacking assurance that the protagonist truly said those statements. As a result, this connotation evoked through Sebald’s style of writing prevented readers from fully understand Austerlitz; without knowledge of whether the words belonging to the protagonist were valid or not, Austerlitz’s past remained lingering beneath the shadows of uncertainty. Moreover, the recollection of his story through the voice of the narrator further crumbled the possibility of the reader coming to fully know the character. By having his past recounted through the narrator, Austerlitz’s voice lost its authenticity, and subsequently the uncertainty of whether the narrator’s portrayal of the protagonist’s past is valid or not becomes further emphasized. 

What is the Prelapsarian Language?

In Stillman’s first conversation with the protagonist the story invokes an idea that language in its prelapsarian state involves words correlating to an object’s function and physical exterior. When Quinn asks Stillman his purpose for collecting broken objects, Stillman replies that he’s “invent[ing] new words that would correspond to the things”. This can be interpreted as Stillman giving the objects new names that would agree to their functions and outward appearances. Through the thought of the objects being renamed in accordance to their very nature, the scene suddenly evokes a sense of wholeness hence supporting an underlying theme of unity. But how does this connotation we receive from the mere thought of renaming an object tie to the theme of unity? Recall that in Stillman’s umbrella analogy he indicates that when we hear the word ‘umbrella’ we think of an object that protects us from the rain. By thinking of the umbrella in terms of Stillman’s description of it, we are drawing an immediate connection between the objects name and its nature. This relationship that we are picturing between the object and its name blurs the boundaries that separate the word ‘umbrella’ and the object it names, subsequently making them seem as one. From this interchangeability we feel from sensing this connection, evokes the connotation of wholeness. Though this connotation we receive lies the underlying theme of unity as this tone that we sense involves the unification of the word and the object it names. However, if the umbrella were to break, it would no longer serve its function as something that would protect one from rain. Hence, would it be appropriate to call the broken object an umbrella? Stillman believes not! Alas, the sight of the broken object does not correlate to our initial impression of the word umbrella. Because we were initially taught to recognize an umbrella, as Stillman describes it to be, as “a kind of stick, with collapsible metal spokes on top that form an armature for a waterproof material which, when opened, will protect you from the rain” calling an umbrella that is broken as an umbrella removes the connotation of wholeness unlike when we draw the connection between the name of the object and the object itself. Without this feeling of wholeness, the name ‘umbrella’ loses the sense that it is a language in its prelapsarian state.

Master-Slave Relationship between Language and Human Perception

Hi everyone! Wow! :O I can’t believe we’ve already reached the end of the year! It’s a miracle we survived! And sorry that this is late! I felt that it would be better that I do it now rather than regretting that I never did later.

In my perspective, I found the story to be delivering a master-slave relationship between the human will and language in its prelapsarian state. I thought that language in that state was in a slave-like position: was submissive to human perception of what the person sees. Through Stillman’s Humpty Dumpty analogy and his insight of before the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, the story examines how the interchangeability evoked by a word fully embodying an object’s nature and appearance within the compliance language has upon the human will can restore language back to its prelapsarian state. When Stillman noted Humpty Dumpty’s statement “[w]hen I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said… it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less” the statement evokes a sense that words can be submissive to human will. By indicating himself to be responsible for the meaning of words, it suggests an idea that if we were to “become masters of the words we speak” we then have the power to create and alter words into our liking; in other words, we have the capability of forming words that would correspond to our perception of an object’s appearance or function. By suggesting that we are able to form words in accordance to our preference(s), the scene evokes a notion that this power we hold over language can restore language back to its prelapsarian state. In order to further support this notion of our mastery over language, let’s investigate Stillman’s insight of before the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. In his analysis, Stillman examines Adam’s task of inventing language in the Garden. In his state of innocence, the words Adam used to describe what he saw wholly embodies the nature of the things before his eyes: his words “had revealed their essences, had literally brought them to life”. By being able to draw out the nature of the things he saw, the language that Adam uses seems convey a sense of subservience to his own perspective. Through this statement, we can infer that the words he uses before the fall directly associates with the way how he views the functions and appearances of the things he names. By initially inventing words in correlation to his own perceptions, we can conclude that Adam’s words before the fall represents language in its prelapsarian state. Subsequently, this association suggests to us that we have absolute power over words we speak: that we are capable of inventing words and changing them to suit our perceptions of what we see. By being able to invent a name that correlates to our perspective of an object’s appearance or function, we are able to force an object and its name to appear compatible, hence invoking a sense of unity. Through this connotation re-stimulated by the interchangeability between an object and its name, the story then suggests that we are able to, in our own power, restore language back to its original state before the fall of mankind.

Subtly Symbolizing Social Norms

Okay! I, for one, need to get my life organized. Last week, I remember promising myself that I’ll start on my blog post regarding my presentation on Carter. Did not happen. Fortunately, I managed to find motivation this week to get myself started on it. Even better, this blog post wouldn’t be included in my “last week of school finishing up my blog posts” category; so I can allow myself to say that I’m not a total disappointment. Anyways! Here’s my Carter blog post! 🙂  Recall my presentation, I asked about the significance of the Erl-King’s green eyes and the rose from “The Snow Child”. How I interpreted these messages associated mainly with an underlying theme of suppression of female sexuality.

 Throughout the Erl-King, I noticed that there was a reoccurring motif of green eyes. Under the perspective of the narrator perceiving his eyes to be like “a reducing chamber” and that “if [she] look[ed] into it long enough… [she] will diminish to a point and vanish”, I thought that the narrator revealed her sense of herself as an independent individual diminishing as the Erl-King’s manipulation reduced her to a state of submissiveness. From this scene, I construed that the Erl-King represented masculinity through the lenses of Carter’s era in the form of dominance.

As for the rose in “The Snow Child”, I perceived the rose as a symbol of the Count’s erotic desires. By offering the Countess the rose, it was as if the Count was trying to impose his desire upon her; furthermore, it can be seen as his attempt to make her conform to his wishes. The Count’s action of giving the Countess the rose would then subsequently imply a twentieth century society’s opinion of the female gender. In addition, during another scene in regards to the rose, I found that the Countess’s action of releasing the rose from her grasp,  acted as her rejection to her husband’s desire of her to conform to his erotic wishes. Through her action, it can be conceived that the Countess would not be a suitable representation to a twentieth century society’s view of women; her action does not correlate with the past notion that women should be submissive to both social norms and a figure of higher authority. Without acting in accordance to what is expected a woman in Carter’s time should behave, the Countess exempted herself from being a part of that era’s stiff gender hierarchy. As a result, the Countess portrayed herself as a woman independent from the social norms and power struggles within a twentieth century society: the qualities she portrayed did not align to the expectations her society had towards women. Hence, it can be inferred that the Carter may have arranged to Countess to exhibit this masculine feature in order to promote the idea of women independence.

The Tempest: The Ideal Father

One thing that was interesting for me to note while reading The Tempest was the similarity between Prospero and Stephano; both were viewed as fatherly figures by Caliban despite weakening his  position as a savage being. Compared to slaving for Prospero, Caliban was more eager to serve Stephano for Stephano not only tempted Caliban with an illusionary opportunity to free himself from the hands of a cruel master, but he also enabled Caliban to feel valuable. Once Prospero condemned Caliban to servitude, Prospero removed himself from the position as a fatherly figure in Caliban’s life, hence fully depriving Caliban from feeling affection or kindness. As for Stephano, even though his kind behavior towards Caliban was entirely faked, the attention and attitude he portrayed quenched Caliban’s emotional isolation. Much to what Prospero did, Stephano severed Caliban’s tie to his animalistic nature: he fed false information to Caliban such as indicating himself to be a heavenly being (2.2. 132—33), and humanized Caliban even more by ordering him to consume his liquor (2.2. 136). Stephano’s actions can be parallelized to Prospero’s attempt to civilize the child of Sycorax. Despite the injustice of Stephano’s actions, Caliban viewed him more as fatherly figure than Prospero. Similarly to Prospero, Stephano introduced new things into Caliban’s life. Just like what Prospero did, the new things Stephano introduced to Caliban made him appear more removed from his animalistic nature. Although Stephano’s behavior towards him was all an act, his act was enough to convince Caliban that there is someone capable of truly caring for him. Acceptance was something Caliban craved for as he had been denied of it since the death of his mother and since his rejection from the inhabitants of the island.

Kliest: Why to the Holy Mother of God?

While I was reading the Earthquake in Chile, I noticed that Jeronimo has given more glorification to the “Holy Mother of God” (11) than to the “Being that rules above the clouds” (9). If this was read from a religious perspective, the “Holy Mother” and the “Being” are separate beings: one is a human female, while the latter is an God (or an entity). What I don’t understand is why Jeronimo praises and prays more to the “Holy Mother” instead of God. To briefly clarify my confusion, first imagine yourself as a child; suppose you really want invite your friends for a sleepover, but you have to ask your parents for their permission to allow you to perform the task. If you were to ask for something you really want to happen, wouldn’t you inquire the person who most likely has it in his or her power to enable you to achieve your objective? Since it has been revealed throughout religious texts that a god has entire control over everything, wouldn’t it make sense for Jeronimo to glorify and beg his God for help rather than inquiring the “Holy Mother”? Compared to a God, the “Holy Mother” was a human being rather than an entity that possessed unlimited power and control over the entire universe, if viewed through the lenses of Christianity. Another thing to note, would Jeronimo’s preference towards the Holy Mother indicate that he held a respect for women?  Furthermore, would his preference towards the “Holy Mother” hint anything about Kleist being supportive of feminism?

Mengzi: Exploring the Negative Impact of Vision

In my presentation, I believe I have asked about what Mengzi would say about a sociopath’s nature. I believe Mengzi would have said that they are born with an innate goodness, but are incapable of developing it for they have a difficulty of differentiating between right and wrong. In my opinion (and Mengzi would probably agree), I believe a sociopath’s difficulty to cultivate his or her innate goodness may be due the environment he or she is situated in and witnesses in his or her everyday life. Hence, in the case of a sociopath, Mengzi’s idea of vision being a useful tool for cultivating our innate goodness and extending it to others would be refuted; the case proves that vision can also play as an obstacle to one’s development in their benevolent nature. Although I feel like I’m making it start to appear that Mengzi only indicated vision as useful instrument that would support our benevolent nature, I believe that there were certain areas in the book in which he negatively characterized vision. In Mengzi’s kitchen example, I’m certain that Mengzi illustrated vision as a tool that can stump the growth of one’s benevolent nature. In Book 1A, Mengzi compared the king’s growth in benevolence to “gentlemen [that] keep their distance from the kitchen” (1A7.8). Metaphorically speaking, the act of avoiding “the kitchen” can be seen as an action of distancing yourself from an environment that negatively impacts your innate goodness by slowing its expansion. Thus, by “staying away from the kitchen”, a person would be able to cultivate the growth of his or her benevolent nature or extend it to others. Hence, this example may have likely portrayed sight as a tool that would not only propel the development of one’s innate goodness, but that it can also delay its progress or stunt its growth by evoking a non-benevolent nature. If we were to associate the word “kitchen” with images of animal corpses, and dead plants, it would become easier for us to relate a kitchen to Mengzi’s unidealistic environment for the association of the word kitchen with dead organisms generate negative connotations such as death or destruction. Unlike the sight of the ox stimulating the growth of King Xuan’s benevolent nature, the sight of the kitchen (or witnessing an environment Mengzi would regard as a danger to the growth of our innate goodness) would be the obstacle to a person’s journey of leading a virtuous life. Hence, I believe that Mengzi demonstrated sight carrying another ability other than generating compassion: that it can be used to disintegrate the development one’s benevolent nature.